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November 2015

A Holiday Card For the Ages

Screen shot 2015-11-29 at 8.09.15 PM
Photo by Jenn Murphy

Well the holiday season is here again, and with it comes a barrage of Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza, I don’t know your life) cards sent from random relatives and acquaintances near and far. These cards often come with an excessively long letter detailing all of the triumphs and successes of the writer’s friends, family and sometimes even their pets. I’m always fascinated (and mildly irritated) by the fact that these letters only highlight the most positive events of the last year. I want to hear about the real nitty gritty stuff that went down. Who left their significant other for their secretary? Who went to jail? Who got a really regrettable haircut months ago that they’re still trying to grow out?  I don’t know about you guys, but that’s what I want to know about.

 

For years I’ve been trying to convince my parents to send out a fake letter, describing the sordid details of a year in the Murphy household, but they repeatedly refuse. Something about not wanting to burn bridges…I don’t know. It’s a lame excuse. So I thought, hey, since I now have this handy-dandy blog, why don’t I share it here? It’s full of pop culture-y goodness, and might even inspire my readers to write their own drama-filled holiday letters! So read on to find out all about the (completely fictional) year that was in the Murphy household.


 

Dear [Insert Name Here],

Hope this holiday season finds you and yours in good health and good spirits. This year has been quite the exciting roller coaster for the Murphy family. I thought I’d fill everyone in on what we’ve all been up to!

 

Jenn is back in jail again. I’d rather not get into why, but I’ll just say that she’s been banned from any and all “Payless ShoeSource” stores. She swears that this will be the last time, and has even begun writing a musical that she swears will be, “her ticket out of this one-trick pony town.” (Her words, not mine – she’s such a creative!) She’s calling it “Orange is the New Wack: Five Years an Inmate,” and says, “it’s going to capture the essence of that time Iggy Azalea fell of the stage at that concert.” Maybe it’ll be the next “Taft,” or whatever that Broadway musical is that all the kids are talking about. I of course have high hopes, but I also had high hopes when she said she wasn’t going to steal children’s shoes in bulk anymore, so we’ll see what happens.

 

Wayne spent the beginning of the year binge-watching “Breaking Bad,” which I haven’t seen yet but heard is very good. He now seems to have started a new business! I don’t really know much about what he’s doing, other than the fact that there’s now a Winnebago in the back yard and every time I ask what he’s up to he just says he’s “the one who knocks” in a really creepy voice and I let it go. I’ve read that it’s good to let men have their hobbies, so I’m just going to chalk it up to that.

 

Now I don’t want you to think that my husband and my daughter have had all the fun this year! I too have started in on some new endeavors. I recently acquired about 17 cats. It started out with just three, Meredith, Olivia and Annalise (I do love my TGIT), but every time I let them outside they came back with more! At first I was concerned, but I’ve decided to take it as a sign that these cats and I are meant for something great. One night, while vacuuming up all of their hair from the carpet and the chairs and the walls and really just the air in general, I happened upon a segment on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” featuring “The Amazing Acro-Cats.” Seeing their grace and talent inspired me to start my own cat acrobatics team! Things haven’t been going too great so far, it turns out that cats like scratching people more than they like walking on a tight rope, but I’m not giving up. I’m convinced that this time next year you’ll all be seeing me and my new cat family taking over late night. It’s only a matter of time before they stop attacking me, right?

 

Well, that’s it from us! Again, I hope you all have had a wonderful year and have a great holiday season.

 

Sincerely,

The Murphys

Bonnie, Wayne and Inmate #24601-B


 

I hope you guys enjoyed my family’s (again, completely fictional) holiday letter! Let me know in the comments what crazy hijinks you would include in your own. And, of course…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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Fade in on…5 Questions with the guys from ‘AfterSmash’

Photo by Jenn Murphy
Photo by Jenn Murphy

Back in 2012, a little show called “Smash” debuted on NBC. The series, which focused on the blood, sweat, tears and scarves (lots of scarves) that go into making a Broadway musical, received mostly positive reviews for its pilot and seemed poised to make NBC more of a serious contender in the network TV battle. It had a winning team behind it; Stephen Spielberg was an executive producer, Tony-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were set to write songs for the show within the show and accomplished playwright Theresa Rebeck as attached as the show’s creator. Well-known actors like Anjelica Huston and Debra Messing were mixed in the cast with Broadway vets like Christian Borle and Megan Hilty. But then, things went south – fast.

 

Following a uneven and lackluster first season with enough behind-the-scenes drama to fuel an entire season of “Smash,”  Rebeck was replaced as showrunner and at least four actors that played large roles in the first season were unceremoniously let go. There was some hope that a revamped second season would bring back the promise that the pilot had, but it proved unsuccessful and thus “Smash” ended quietly on May 26, 2013.

 

As a big lover of Broadway and musical theatre, I was one of the hearty souls who watched “Smash” all the way to the bitter end. Even though it had its many failings, there was still something that always kept me around, whether it was a great musical number or a ridiculous plot development that I just had to see play out. I think a big part of it was that since “Smash” had so many strange and questionable moments, there was endless fodder for discussion. This discussion has carried on today, long after “Smash” took its final bow, in the form of an excellent podcast called “AfterSmash.” Hosted by Louis Peitzman, a longtime “Smash” fan, and Matt Piwowarczyk, a “Smash” virgin, “AfterSmash” is going through every episode of the show, (they’re currently in the midst of season two) hilariously dissecting all of the drama, head-scratching moments and musical numbers that make “Smash,” in their words, “NBC’s best/worst musical drama.”

 

I recently chatted with Peitzman and Piwowarczyk over the phone, where we talked about the TV podcasting landscape, the idea of “hate-watching” and, of course, the delightful train wreck known as “Smash.”


What made you guys want to get into the podcasting game?

Louis: I’ve wanted to do a podcast for a long time but it just seemed like a daunting idea. I actually had this idea for a “Smash” podcast while the show was airing and I just didn’t really feel like I had the time or I knew what I was doing enough to really get started. People kept asking me why I didn’t have a podcast and so finally when Matt and I were talking, he sort of revealed that he would be interested in doing the tech part of things and sort of figuring out how to record and editing and all of that and that was a huge burden off of me, so we decided to do something together.

Matt: I was really getting into podcasts a couple of years ago, and when I became friends with Louis, he mentioned this idea of doing a “Smash” podcast. I’d never seen the show but I’d seen everyone talking about it and was sort of interested in it. I was sort of attracted to having my own podcast after listening to so many so I kind of just jumped at the opportunity when Louis presented it.

 

Why “Smash” specifically?

L: I love the idea of going in-depth on a show, and “Smash” always made the most sense to me because when it was on I remember talking to friends who were watching it and just spending hours talking about all of the weird things happening on the show and how bizarre it was. We loved it and we loved picking it apart. It felt like a natural fit for a discussion-based show. Also, having done other TV podcasts, I feel like hour-long drama-type shows work better because there’s more to talk about and I think it’s best if the show takes itself a little bit seriously and one of the things I love about “Smash” is that it’s so crazy but also is pretty sincere. I think that just lends itself better to discussion and also to making jokes about it because there’s just so much there to talk about and make fun of.

M: Anjelica Huston grabbed my interest, and Debra Messing. I’m a huge fan of those actors. It’s one of those things where, I think Meryl Streep is a good example, where everyone loves Meryl Streep but there are several Meryl Streep movies that people haven’t seen or it’s a gap in your Meryl filmography and you don’t want to confess that you haven’t seen “Kramer vs. Kramer” or something like that. So I finally wanted to fill that gap in my Anjelica Huston viewership, I suppose. That was a big part of it. And I’d always sort of been into musical theatre as well, in a kind of casual way. What’s great about Louis is that he’s so enthusiastic about musical theatre and it’s sort of infectious. I had been listening to more shows, more Broadway albums, and it seemed like a good way to get back into that.

 

It seems like more recently a lot of podcasts have come out that focus on rewatching and discussing older TV shows, or at least shows that aren’t airing new episodes anymore. Why do you guys think that is? Why do you think people gravitate towards making those kinds of podcasts and why do you think people gravitate towards listening to them?

L: TV is very communal, obviously, and we enjoy watching TV and discussing it with people. I think that, with DVR and everything now, we don’t watch TV live as much anymore and so we’ve kind of lost a little bit of what we used to have, which was everyone watching shows at the same time or together and talking about them right after and so it sort of hearkens back to those days. I think it’s a natural fit. It feels fun to have a friend over to talk about TV and I think people listen because they miss that experience of watching together and discussing together. Especially shows that are no longer on the air. You’re sort of reliving it in that way. It’s really appealing for people.

M: It’s definitely a trend. I think that people are really hungry to discuss shows that they weren’t able to discuss in that format before. Podcasting kind of lends itself to that; it’s serialized, it costs almost nothing to make and you can kind of discuss whatever you want to, so why not go back and create a forum basically for shows that you maybe wanted to discuss with a wide audience but can’t anymore because they are no longer on the air. So that format kind of becomes ideal in that situation.

 

“Smash,” among other shows, seemed to bring up this idea of “hate-watching.” I feel like there have been shows that I’ve “hate-watched” in the past in some capacity or another, so why do you guys think that has become a thing?

L: I think it’s kind of like people who want to see a car wreck. There’s something appealing about watching something that is just wrong on every level. Going back to the whole thing of communal watching, there’s something satisfying about watching something together that is not good. What I loved about Smash is talking the next day about all of the bad things that happened. Talking about a great show is fun too, but it’s different. There’s only so much you can say, you’re kind of just gushing about how good it is. Whereas, a show where just random, terrible things keep going on in every episode, there’s a lot of material there that you can dissect with friends and try to figure out why they would do that and who made that choice and why wouldn’t they fix it. It’s really interesting to analyze it in those terms.

M: I wonder if there’s even such a thing as “hate-watching.” I don’t know, I feel like there has to be something you inherently love about what you’re watching to even be motivated enough to watch an hour of it, you know what I’m saying? I’ve been thinking about that, it’s a question I actually ask myself a lot as I’m watching “The Mysteries of Laura,” which really started as, “oh my god this seems like kind of a mess, I just want to check it out” into now I feel a little defensive about it. I’m very much into this genre of mystery called “cozy mysteries” and those sort of self contained stories that have a domestic piece and a crime element and that show had that and that’s the only thing right now that I could easily find on network television that is in that genre. So of course I would watch it. So I’m not necessarily “hate-watching” it, I’m watching it because it’s the best thing on that’s actually aligned to my interests. It has flawed elements that I can’t help but point out or mock in moments, but I think overall I really do like the show. And same thing with Smash. I think most people who watch Smash are very huge Broadway musical fans and musical theatre fans. Definitely Louis and I, we love Smash. We really love that show a lot, there’s just a lot of flaws to discuss. Enough to make a podcast out of it! And I hope that looking back on episodes there are as many positive things to say as negative things to say. I don’t know if that’s actually a mathematical balance but I feel like I’ve been feeling more positively about the show recently. Especially because I know it’s going to end.

 

And finally, based on your experience so far, what advice would you guys give to someone interested in starting their own podcast?

L: I would say the biggest thing is planning. I think the more planning you do ahead of time, the better. It’s a lot more work then you think it’s going to be. There were things we did, like we made sure we had five episodes before we started posting them online, which I think is a good idea. One thing I wish I had done earlier is booking people on the show because it can be very hard to find someone last-minute who wants to do the show. I think consistency is also important and I’m glad we haven’t actually missed any weeks yet, but the way we do that is we try to get things done as early as possible. So yeah, planning ahead of time is I think the biggest thing.

M: I find myself gravitating towards podcasts that are structured and I think we’ve kind of done that with ours, with the predictions or the Karen vs. Ivy segment. And that’s kind of a taste thing. I prefer that element. But also, most importantly, it has to be something that you are willing to talk about for conceivably years and years. Doing it for several months, especially when you do a weekly one, you really have to love what your topic is and if not the day to day grind of recording and editing and all that stuff becomes even more tedious. It’s important to like what you’re talking about.


For more from Louis and Matt, follow “AfterSmash” on Twitter and Facebook and be sure to check out the podcast on iTunes. Trust me, it’ll only take one listen for you to become OBSESSED.

 

Are you also a long-suffering “Smash” fan? Ever “hate-watched” something? Have any TV-related podcasts of your own that you love? Let my comments section be your star. And of course…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

How to Succeed at Stage Dooring (Without Really Trying)

Tony Award-winner Lena Hall at the stage door for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" Photo by Jenn Murphy
Tony Award-winner Lena Hall at the stage door for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Jenn Murphy

One of the great things about seeing live theatre is the potential for stage dooring. What is “stage dooring,” you ask? Well, according to Urban Dictionary, stage dooring is, “to wait at the stage door of a Broadway theater after a show and meet the actors.” It’s a great opportunity to show gratitude to the actors who just gave a great performance and to maybe even get a few autographs and photos! I’ve had my fair share of stage dooring experiences (both positive and negative) over the years, so I thought I would put together a best practices how-to that will make your future stage dooring experiences successful and memorable. While this applies primarily to Broadway shows (as the definition implies) I have definitely seen some stage dooring go down at performances outside of the Broadway realm. It’s a little trickier, but definitely doable and these tips will still help.

 

1) Be Prepared

There are a few tools you will need to master the art of the stage door. One is a sharpie, preferably black or silver, that you can offer to any actors who don’t have one to sign Playbills, programs or posters with. Typically, the performers come prepared, but it never hurts to have one on the off-chance that someone forgot theirs. If you’re hoping to get photos, also make sure to have a camera (or a camera phone) that is fully charged and has lots of memory available. Nothing is more frustrating (or embarrassing) then going in for a picture only to find out that your camera is dead or has no more space for photos! This preparation is minimal but key in a great stage dooring experience.

 

2) Be observant

On the day of the show, try to get to the theater early so you can scope out where the stage door actually is. Since stage dooring is such a common thing on Broadway, those doors are generally much easier to find, as they typically say “stage door” or have barricades nearby. If you can’t find it yourself, ask an usher. This is especially useful if you’re not seeing a Broadway production. They can also let you know if stage dooring is even a thing at your theater. Once you get into the theater, remember the way you came in so that post-show, you’ll know the quickest route to get back outside to the stage door.

 

3) Find Your Spot

Once the performance is over (so great, right?) quickly (but safely!) make your way out of the theater to the stage door. Try not to leave before the pit orchestra is finished playing, that’s just the nice thing to do, and they probably sound pretty awesome. Once you get outside, head over to where the stage door is and look at the way people are lining up. Like I mentioned earlier, often there are barricades set up to ensure safety and organization, so look to see how they’re set up and where you can stand. Obviously it’s ideal to get as close to the barricade as possible, but don’t be dismayed if you wind up a person or two back! Performers are usually very accommodating and will sign for everyone there.

 

Zachary Levi at the stage door for "First Date." Photo by Jenn Murphy
Zachary Levi at the stage door for “First Date.” Photo by Jenn Murphy

4) Be Patient! 

It might be a little while before the actors start coming out, so be prepared to wait. They likely have makeup to remove and elaborate costumes to take off, so they won’t be running out the door immediately. This is a good time to pull out your backup Sharpie and make sure your camera is all ready to go. This is also a great opportunity to make friends with the people waiting around you! If you’re really nice, they might be willing to take pictures of you with the actors when they come out. It never hurts to be friendly! Also, keep an eye out for the comings and goings around the stage door. Like it says in this great stage dooring etiquette piece from Stagescape, you might spot someone else famous who came to see the show!

 

5) Be polite!

Once actors start coming out to sign and take photos, it’s REALLY important to be polite and respectful, both to them and to the people waiting around you. It might seem crazy that I have to say this, but be nice to all of the actors that come out. I’ve definitely heard some people make some strange and somewhat insulting comments to performers at the stage door and it always blows my mind that someone would actually do that. Be friendly, thank them for the performance, and maybe ask a question if you feel so inclined. You can ask for a picture with them, but don’t be rude if they say no. Also, don’t hog a performer’s time and attention. I recently had an experience at the stage door for the play “Hand to God” (which is great, go see it) where the woman next to me at the stage door would not stop talking to the actors, so much so that they started to sign my Playbill while still talking to her! It gave me very little time to say anything to the actors myself, and it was very frustrating. Basically, know when to quit. And finally, don’t shove anyone else to try and get a photo or an autograph. The actors notice, and it doesn’t look so great for you.

 

6) Be Understanding!

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a chance you might not get any face time with your favorite performer. BroadwaySpotted wrote an excellent piece on this exact topic. While many actors love chatting with fans post show, it’s not necessarily something they’re required to do. If an actor that you admire doesn’t take the time to sign or take photos, don’t think poorly of them. You of course have a right to be disappointed, but there could be a million different reasons for why they couldn’t stick around. You just have to respect that and be happy that you got to see them onstage.

 

Michael Urie at the stage door for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Photo by Jenn Murphy
Michael Urie at the stage door for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Photo by Jenn Murphy

And that’s it! Hopefully these steps will help you to have a wonderful stage dooring experience, wherever it may be. If you’re a frequent stage door-er yourself, let me know in the comments if I missed any key tips or share your best or worst stage dooring stories! I’d love to hear them. If you’re a first-time stage door-er, let me know how it went! And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

Streaming Theatre and The Broadway Bootleg Battle

Photo by Jenn Murphy
Photo by Jenn Murphy

On Oct. 26, multiple sources including Entertainment Weekly announced that a new streaming service, called “Broadway HD,” will offer paid, subscription-based access to high-quality recordings of live theatrical productions from Broadway and beyond. This news was met with cheers of joy and the hope that eventually people all over the country (and presumably, the world) will be able to get a taste of Broadway from the comfort of their own home.

 

This isn’t the first time that Broadway shows have found their way to the Internet though. It’s just the one of the first times that Broadway shows have found their way to the Internet legally.

 

For years, Broadway fans on websites like Tumblr and YouTube have traded and shared “bootlegs” (a.k.a. illegally recorded productions) of Broadway plays and musicals both current and past, the primary goal being to share the theatrical wealth with those who don’t have the means to get to a Broadway theater. In that sense it’s an honorable pursuit, but to many performers and creators in the Broadway community, it’s a nuisance that not only distracts from the performance at hand but also takes away from the magic of seeing a live show in-person.

 

In addition to the more lofty reasonings in the battle against the bootleg, there’s also the financial one. Every aspect of a Broadway show is created by a group of very talented, hardworking people and those people should be justly compensated for their work. If someone watches a show via a free bootleg, they’re essentially depriving those people of hard-earned, well deserved money. And that’s just not fair.

 

“Hamilton” creator and star (I know, I know “she’s bringing up ‘Hamilton’ again'”) Lin-Manuel Miranda put the anti-bootleg view best when he responded to requests for a “Hamilton” bootleg on Tumblr with this. Like Miranda says, there is something incredibly special and magical about being in a darkened theatre surrounded by others experiencing a live performance that will only live in that moment. However, many bootleg watchers would argue that an experience like that often comes with a somewhat hefty (upwards of $100) cost. If only there was a way for both sides to be happy…

 

This brings us back to “Broadway HD.” At the moment the website doesn’t have any up-to-date Broadway productions available for streaming. (And it doesn’t seem likely that it will any time soon; according to a piece from The Daily Dot, Broadway producers are concerned that a streaming service might eat away at ticket sales.) The site’s content is mostly made up of British productions from The BBC. The most current show from Broadway is the 2013 revival of “Romeo and Juliet” starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. A subscription to “Broadway HD” is either $14.99 for a month or $169.99 for a year, which isn’t exactly cheap. If “Broadway HD” is meant to be a solution to the bootleg epidemic, it’s going to need to do a bit more to appeal to both the Broadway community and the bootlegging audience.

 

Personally, I can see it from both sides. As someone who has had the pleasure of seeing a number of Broadway shows (and the displeasure of watching a few shaky, poorly shot bootlegs), I know that nothing can beat seeing a performance like that live. But as someone who doesn’t live in New York and can’t see everything due to money and time, I understand the interest in seeking something out by any means necessary. It’s a discussion worth having and problem that doesn’t have an easy solution.

 

So what do you guys think? Do you think that Broadway shows are meant to be seen live and so they should remain that way, regardless of accessibility issues to Broadway fans all across the country? Or do you think that Broadway needs to adapt to the changing culture and the needs of its fans and develop a fully-formed online streaming presence? Will you be getting a “Broadway HD” subscription? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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